Government Relations Update

NICHD celebrates 50th anniversary and sets goals for next decade

Goals include ambitious agenda for behavior and cognition research.

By Karen Studwell

On Dec. 5, 2012, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) hosted a Scientific Colloquium to commemorate the 15th anniversary of its establishment. A webcast of the full program is available and includes talks from National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, former NICHD Director Duane Alexander, and a slate of prominent researchers representing the broad spectrum of disciplines supported by the institute.

Speakers discussed developments made possible by NICHD investments in such fields as child development, behavioral and social sciences, pregnancy, genetics, contraception and rehabilitation. The scientific presentations were preceded by a welcome by Timothy Shriver, whose mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver spearheaded the legislation that created the institute.

After celebrating the accomplishments of its first fifty years, NICHD Director Alan Guttmacher released the final version of the NICHD Scientific Vision (PDF, 2MB), which seeks to guide the institute’s scientific investments for the next decade. Guttmacher initiated the Vision Process in 2011 and this document is the culmination of a series of workshops and white papers that received input from nearly 700 experts in the scientific community.

The final Scientific Vision is organized into seven scientific areas: 

  1. Developmental Biology

  2. Developmental Origins of Health and Disease

  3. Pregnancy and Pregnancy Outcomes

  4. Reproduction

  5. Behavior and Cognition

  6. Plasticity and Rehabilitation

  7. Population Dynamics

The document incorporates an additional cross-cutting theme, the Conduct of Science, which addresses efforts to enhance the diversity of the scientific workforce, the need to support and reward transdisciplinary science and the impact of large data repositories.

For each area, the Scientific Vision includes specific goals that should be achieved in the next decade. For example, for behavior and cognition, “Within the next 10 years, scientists should be able to:  

  1. Identify 5,000 genetic variants that influence specific behaviors or cognitive traits.  

  2. Fully understand the neurobiological bases, delineate the full developmental spectrum and trajectories, and identify the key biologic markers for five behavioral or cognitive disorders.  

  3. Identify the causes of autism spectrum disorder, and begin to employ that knowledge to develop effective and targeted interventions.”

Given the currently restricted budgets across the federal government, it is not clear how much progress can be made on implementing any new programs at NICHD. The American Psychological Association will continue to monitor the impact of the Vision Statement, as well as the recent reorganization of NICHD, on what and how much research is funded by the institute.

Karen Studwell, JD is a Senior Legislative & Federal Affairs Officer in the Government Relations Office of the Science Directorate at the American Psychological Association.